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Sloane Crosley on her favorite funny books

SLOANE CROSLEY ON HER FAVORITE FUNNY BOOKS

THE WRITER, KNOWN FOR HER WITTY ESSAYS, OFFERS FIVE PICKS

When Sloane Crosley published her first collection of essays—2008’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake, which was critically acclaimed and became a New York Times bestseller—she didn’t realize the book would be marketed as humor.

“When my first book came out, the category suggestion on the upper left-hand corner said ‘Essays/Humor’ and I thought, thank you. That’s a very nice thing that has nothing to do with me,” she says.

Since then, though, she’s had plenty to do with humor, writing two more essay collections and a novel. She has also been a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American humor writing, and judged the competition twice. Her latest book, Look Alive Out There, with essays that mine humor from experiences as disparate as dealing with bad neighbors and making the decision to freeze one’s eggs, is out in paperback, and Crosley, 40, is at work on a new novel.

Her essays often spring from moments of annoyance or frustration that later bloom into something more. “It’s usually an experience in which something becomes a heightened brand of ridiculousness that I think, ‘OK, this is getting written about. I have no choice but to address this,’ ” Crosley says. “My humor is the humor of exasperation.”

When reading, Crosley turns to authors who write in a wide range of styles, not always branded as humor, but nevertheless very funny. Here are a few of her favorites:

1. The Sellout by Paul Beatty

“This is a book that doesn’t give when you press on it. It’s incredibly dense with humor in such a way where that is part of the joke. When I’m writing, my style is such that if I’m worried I’m being too ingratiating or not having enough faith in readers, I’ll take one joke out of every paragraph. But Beatty leans into it.”

2. Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor by John Cheever

“Cheever is so funny and doesn’t get enough credit for it. He writes about the melancholy of suburbia and the chokehold of it, and it’s beautiful writing.”

Sloane Crosley
Sloane Crosley

Credits: Ungano + Agriodimas

3. At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald

“This is a great novel—it’s very subtle, and very British. It takes place in the 1960s and is about a children’s theater school where everything is taken very seriously. There’s a Christopher Guest element to it. It’s really charming and nimble.”

4. Home Land by Sam Lipsyte

“It’s funny when you get jealous of a book for doing something that never would have occurred to you. It’s like going to an art gallery and thinking, I could do this. Of course, the silent retort is, ‘But you didn’t.’ Home Land is structured as class notes in a high school alumni magazine. ... The entire novel is written as a series of letters to the magazine from the main character, and he’s not doing well.”

5. The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith

“Zadie Smith is sharply hilarious, both in her nonfiction and her fiction. The Autograph Man doesn’t get as much attention as it should, but it’s very funny. Something is happening with our need to heavily categorize everything. ... You don’t have to fit into someone else’s box. It’s strange that books are spoken about and marketed in such grossly uncomplicated ways.”

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